Intimacy Fosters an Enhaced Ability to Decode Facial Expressions

“What Your Best Friend Sees That I Don’t” is an article published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that discusses the relevance of closeness of individuals in enhancing their ability to decode emotional facial expressions.

Many people believe that the idea that familiarity will lead to better and more effective emotional communication.  However, research has been unsuccessful in substantiating this claim.

This doesn’t seem so far fetched since people in close relationships spend a lot of time with each other.  They interact and see each other’s emotions more often than mere acquaintances or strangers.

Some evidence in the study suggests that spouses are more accurate than strangers in deciphering one another person’s facial expressions and that men were more accurate than women.

Research to date has not produced strong consistent evidence to support the belief t hat intimacy leads to greater accuracy in decoding facial expressions.  The evidence seems to suggest quite the opposite that people in close relationships especially women are no more accurate in deciphering facial expressions of friends or partners than of strangers.

Overall the study found that compared to strangers, people were not better at recognizing facial expressions of themselves, dating partners, or friends.  Most interesting was that this appeared to be most prevalent in women.

One reason, for this, researchers say is that facial expressions are universal; therefore, requiring minimum prior experience with a target person’s expressions.

Other researchers argued that familiarity may affect decoding accuracy but in a complex way.  Other factors come into play such as characteristics of the judge, the target, and the relationship in question.

The article goes on to discuss whether this holds true for subtle expressions of emotion as well.  In research of subtle expressions researchers found that people were most sensitive at the early stages of an expression.  This is probably because at that point the facial cues have the greatest informative and adaptive value.

One response to “Intimacy Fosters an Enhaced Ability to Decode Facial Expressions”

  1. Omar says:

    It would seem to me that while intimacy allows for a deeper understanding of each other when both parties retain the desire to express their emotions, when that desire is gone, that is, when deception becomes the desire, our deep-rooted expectations of each other make it difficult to see what we wouldn’t want to be there.

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